Monday night’s final public consultation forum on the province’s forthcoming apology to the Chinese community for past historical wrongs should be just the starting point.
That was just one of the suggestions from a packed ballroom of about 300 mostly ethnic Chinese at Richmond’s Radisson Hotel Vancouver Airport who had come out to hear speakers add their opinions on how the government should address B.C.’s history of discriminatory legislation that included the Chinese Head Tax that was established in 1885 to limit Chinese immigration.
“I think we should consider these seven sessions (series of public consultation forums held across B.C.) as only an information session to open the topics,” said Norman Sung, a former president of the Richmond Chinese Community Society (RCCS).
Sung added he has become aware of many divisions within the Chinese community on what an apology should contain and believes more discussion must take place before the government makes any formal atonement.
“It’s because they are not understanding the history,” Sung said. “No one here has learned about this history in our textbooks.”
Lack of historical knowledge about what the Chinese community was subjected to was also on the mind of Alex Wong, current president of the RCCS.
“We know we cannot undo the past. But we can move foreword and leave a legacy for future generations by educating them about the past,” he said.
Meanwhile, local resident Erika Simm wondered why an apology should not be more widespread when discrimination was experienced in B.C. by more than just the Chinese community.
“What about the native children who were forcefully taken away by government from their parents?” she said adding they faced abuses in residential schools and foster homes.
While Simm characterized the period of legislated discrimination as a dark time in our history, “it is also something to accept and learn from,” she said.
But to apologize to only one group wrongs in the past dismisses wrongs done to others, she added.
If there is a formal apology forthcoming, Cecilia Point, a Richmond resident and member of the Musqueam Nation, told the audience she was unsure what form it should take. But it must be sincere and public.
“An apology has to be heartfelt,” she said.
“If anyone has ever apologized to you and you really felt it, that’s where it should come from,” she said, pointing to her heart. “But I don’t know what words that should be.
“And for those of you who think you don’t need an apology, maybe you don’t. But for us, our ancestors don’t rest unless things are put right.”
Point added she would like to see an apology be made in the same public manner as Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“Everyone needs to know about this.”
Richmond Centre MLA Teresa Wat, who as B.C.’s minister of multiculturalism is steering the apology process, told the crowd that all British Columbians need to be part of the important process, “if an apology is to have the currency it needs to be truly meaningful.”
Wat has stated the feedback gathered from the public forums will be taken into account and form part of the presentation when the issue is brought before the legislature in time for the spring session.